At Willamette Humane Society, we’re all about second—and third—chances. And, we’re so grateful to the inmates at Oregon State Correctional Institution for helping our dogs who need behavior changes before they can become adoptable.
Jax, a four-month-old golden retriever puppy, arrived to us as an emergency surrender one late evening in February. He suddenly found himself separated from the one person that he had spent all his time with and he was looking to replace that bond with someone—anyone—and he tried frantically to communicate his need. He had missed out on the early puppy lesson that being alone is a necessary part of being a dog, so confinement sent him into a panic. In his kennel at the shelter, he clawed frantically at the gate, barking fitfully for help.
Behavior Program Manager Catherine Comden took Jax home that first night to comfort him and assess his potential for successful adoption. He demanded constant attention. He barked incessantly. He had no idea about going potty outside, could not keep his crate clean, and showed signs of severe separation anxiety. This puppy, at four months of age, was set to fail.
His handsome looks would attract everyone, but few would be prepared to handle the problem behaviors he exhibited. He was the kind of dog to get adopted quickly, and just as quickly, returned. With every failed placement, each broken bond, his separation anxiety would deepen until he was considered too broken to adopt out. There was not very much hope, until Catherine remembered that OSCI was looking for their next project dog.
OSCI Captain Tammy Norton fully supported the idea of having the inmates work with Jax, teaching him to go potty outdoors, to be calm and obedient when greeting people, and most importantly, to learn that it’s okay to be alone sometimes—that people will, in fact, come back. And, they did it.
After two months of training and with only a few brief coaching sessions, the inmates did everything necessary and taught Jax to go potty outside, to love his crate, to relax in it, to walk well on a leash, to come when called and that staying when told was fun. He was transformed. On his first overnight away from the prison, he slept contentedly for eight hours in a crate in a new environment. It was nothing short of miraculous.
As Jax came back from his furlough, he brought a new friend, Quinn, a 18-month-old black pointer mix. Quinn was surrendered to WHS as a young puppy—unwanted by her family in March 2016. She was adopted quickly and returned a few months later. Unable to be left alone, she had broken through many crates. She was adopted out again, the new owners receiving counseling about her behavioral challenges. They could not contain her and would not train her and thus gave up, returning her to WHS again, six months later. Within a year, Quinn had three failed placements. She is what Jax would have been, but she’s further along in life. Many would consider her unfixable.
Separation anxiety manifests in extreme escape behavior to the point of breaking through crates, chewing through walls, breaking out of windows. It is considered to be unfixable by many and too costly for the average pet owner to accept. Separation anxiety leaves shelters with few options for good outcomes… but we want to change that.
With support from our shelter veterinarian, finding the right medication to calm Quinn’s nerves, and with behavior and training support from the Willamette Humane Society behavior team, the inmates at OSCI will have what they need to teach Quinn that she can learn to cope with being alone. And so, we have hope for Quinn. Jax’s training team at OSCI showed us it’s possible. He will be neutered and go to his forever home. And Quinn will take his place in the hearts of the OSCI inmates who will begin training her. Fingers crossed… we’re doing what no one thinks is possible.
Latest posts by Catherine Comden, CPDT-KA (see all)
- Second Chances: How WHS and OSCI are Working Together - May 3, 2017
- Come to Me: 3 Easy Recall Games for Dogs - March 23, 2017
- Come to Me: Do’s and Don’ts of Teaching the “Come” Command - March 2, 2017